Choosing The Perfect Ladder
Back in the days of the Arc when we were full-time carpenters “getting high” meant climbing a ladder. What’s interesting about that is we’ve always been afraid of heights. So, you might imagine how important it was for us to be assured that the ladders we used were reliable.
Actually, it doesn’t really make any difference whether you have a fear of heights or not. When it comes to ladder safety never mount one unless it is sturdy and secure. There are other issues too.
There are three basic types of materials used to fabricate ladders: wood, metal and fiberglass. Each type has its own pros and cons.
The oldest and most familiar material type is wood. Wood ladders have a solid, sturdy feeling. However, the fact that they are heavy makes them a bit cumbersome and somewhat difficult to transport. Also, wood must be regularly maintained to prevent cracking, splitting and rot. You really don’t want to leave a wood ladder out in the rain. This year when you spruce up your wood deck think about including your wood ladder at the same time. A light coat of wood preservative will add life. Apply the preservative sparingly. Too much could result in a sticky or slippery mess. If your wood ladder needs repair don’t use nails. Nails won’t hold for very long and they have a tendency to split dried wood. All repairs should be made with metal connectors attached with through-bolts.
Ladders made from high-strength aluminum were developed in the ‘50s when hair was short, skirts were long and aluminum was the material of the future. They were touted to be the lightweight, rot-free alternative to wood. And so they were. But aluminum ladders have been around long enough to prove that they don’t last any longer than wood. Salt air or chemicals can corrode – and weaken – an aluminum ladder in no time. Hey, metal is metal. Also, once repaired, a bent section of aluminum can no longer be depended upon to remain straight. Not a good thing when you are suspended six or eight feet in the air depending only on its ability to support you. Be sure not to use an aluminum ladder when working near live electrical lines. The result could be shocking. You know, like when trimming trees, etc. We read one article that singled out the aluminum ladder as the most dangerous type to use when performing electrical work. Ever since we have wondered who the dope was that suggested that it was OK to work on live electrical lines. It is dangerous to work on live electrical lines on any ladder. And furthermore, it is dangerous to work on any live electrical line at all. A wood ladder in a humid area will conduct electricity almost as effectively – if not more so in some instances – than a metal ladder. Bottom line – don’t work on live electrical no matter how safe the manufacturer says his ladder is.
Fiberglass as a replacement for wood and aluminum has become as popular as aluminum was when it first replaced wood. Fiberglass ladders are certainly lighter than wood but are heavier than aluminum. They aren’t subject to rot, they don’t bend easily and they do come in several very pretty colors. Manufacturers say that they will last generations, however that is exactly what they said when aluminum was first introduced. We know for a fact that plastics and resins oxidize in the same fashion as all other carbon-based materials. Only time will tell whether fiberglass will last any longer than the others. In the mean time – enjoy the colors.
If you regularly perform home maintenance you may need more than one ladder. Depending on your home you may need several. A two story home with high ceilings and low ceilings might require a tall folding ladder and shorter folding ladder and a long extension ladder.
When shopping for an extension ladder, remember that a 20-foot ladder will only extend to about 17 feet. The difference is taken up where the sections overlap. Also, be sure to get a ladder that will extend beyond the roof a few feet. When shopping for a folding ladder, remember that eight-foot ladders are too tall for eight-foot ceilings. For 8-foot ceilings use a six-foot high ladder.
Last – but not least – keep ladder safety in mind. Each year thousands of people are injured in ladder related accidents. Proper ladder placement is an art. First and foremost – as we have already mentioned – don’t even think of using a damaged ladder. Inspect it closely before each use. A wobbly one is a dangerous one. Next, be sure that the ladder is placed on a solid surface. Did you hear about the lady that was injured when she fell off of a four-foot ladder. She wanted to replace a light bulb over her bed. Where do you think she placed the ladder? Outside in the flower garden is just as dangerous. Use a sheet of plywood or a couple of pieces of good solid 2x lumber to be sure that the legs of the ladder don’t sink into the root growth – possibly planting you on your back. Finally, always place the ladder at about a seventy-five degree angle. Less angle could result in a trip “backward to the future” and more angle can weaken the ladder. Oh, and remember, ladders are sold by weight rating – how much weight it is rated to carry. The more weight a ladder will hold the stronger it must be. Hey, get a good ladder and have a safe year. And, good luck!
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